I thought all the issues surrounding my marriage and divorce from a gay man 20 years ago had finally disappeared or settled down, but now I seem to be smack in the middle of it all over again.

A common dilemma facing mixed-orientation families is deciding who should know and who should be “protected” from the knowledge that one family member is gay.  Particularly around holidays, emotional family issues surface.  This is An especially precarious time for mixed-orientation families who have not been completely open with each other.  Some relatives know the whole story; others don’t.  Everyone who is aware of the truth is imprisoned by the secret they carry.

 Mae is one such straight spouse.  Caught in this situation, she shared her story. It is a case study of the destructive force of secrecy in a family.

We had been married about 2-3 months, when finally, because of my constant questioning about why he didn't seem to want to have anything to do with our sex life, he told me that he had fallen in love with a man and had an affair just before he met me. 

When we were married I was a single mom with three children.  After 10 years of marriage, and one child (a son) of our own, I finally reached the stage of accepting the fact that nothing was going to change.  By that time, I was near to my own breakdown, because the worst of the whole situation was the secrecy.  I had spent 10 years unable to tell anyone why I was miserable, because he refused to come out.  When I asked if we could just agree to be celibate (we hadn't had sex in 5 years!), he refused to agree.  He refused to go to counseling.  I never felt I had the right to tell anyone what was wrong with our marriage--I thought it wasn't my place to 'out' him.  Living the lie was killing me, and that isn't just a convenient phrase.  My depression was affecting my health.

 My three daughters saw something was wrong, but I couldn't tell them.  They loved their stepfather.  I had no reason to tell anyone I wanted a divorce, but I desperately wanted out of the box I was living in.

After years of bare survival, this woman left her husband and remarried.  Her three daughters went with their mother, and the son stayed with his father.  At the time, none of the children knew the real cause of the divorce.  Mae continued her account:

This all happened 20 years ago.  Just recently my ex-husband finally came out to my son, who loves his father and has never suspected anything.  My son was shocked, and has been going through the stages [of coping] you have listed.  He finally truly understood why we were divorced, but I could sense his confusion at my silence all these years. My daughters still don’t know the truth.

All this, however, is not why I am writing here.  One of the things I warned my son about when he called and told me about his dad's confession, was to be careful not to get caught in the game of secrecy. 

Then, just a few days ago, my son called and asked if his dad could come to our Thanksgiving celebration (we've always kept our celebrations separate since the divorce).  My husband doesn't like my ex, but he would tolerate the situation if he had to.  But I told my son that unless his dad also told [the rest of the family] I was not willing to invite him over.  I think it would be horribly unfair, and unhealthy, to have this celebration with this hanging in the air.

Mostly, I cannot bear the idea of being put in the position of keeping this lie alive around my daughters when he has already told my son.  I just can't bring myself to have this charade in my house, with my participation.  Everything in me wants my daughters included and wants this life of lies that affected our family so devastatingly to be over once and for all.

My son is now furious with me, telling me it should make no difference who his dad has told and who he hasn't. This is breaking my heart, and once again I can't tell my daughters what is hurting (I told my current husband years ago).  My ex is somehow still controlling my life and separating me from the rest of my family, which is one of the consequences of keeping a secret like this.

Mae’s last sentence is the very heart of her dilemma.  Her ex-husband is still in control.  Mae feels bound to “live the lie” even twenty years after her divorce.  She still lives in his closet, trapped in the past.  She wonders if she is wrong to insist that her ex-husband must come out to all family members.  She asks, “Should it matter?”  She is questioning her own perspective and feels completely confused. 

In answer to her request for advice, several observations may be instructive.  First, there is still considerable emotional connection left in this divided family, otherwise there would be no question about coming together on the holiday.  There is thus some ground on which to build a more comfortable future association because Mae’s gay ex-husband apparently wants to be included. 

What would happen if, Instead of asking her son to be the messenger, Mae talked directly to her ex-husband and took charge of the matter:  “You are welcome in my home on the condition that you come out to my daughters.  Then everyone in the family will stand on equal ground.  If you don’t tell the girls, I will do so myself and we will all be freed of the burden of lies.” 

Mae has no obligation to lie any longer.  This is not her secret to keep.  She is not required to hide the truth from her daughters any longer, particularly since her ex-husband came out to their son.  Though taking a stand may stir initial anger or hurt feelings, clinging to the lie will most certainly harm Mae’s future relationship with her daughters and could damage her own mental and emotional health.

Truth frees.  Secrecy imprisons.  Mae can choose to walk out of her own closet of secrecy and breathe the fresh air of truth. 

Sincere wishes for the best outcome for all.





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